Why Jimmy Graham's Fantasy Football Value Takes a Big Hit in Seattle
One of the best tweets surrounding free agency came from Rich Hribar of XNSports, who's also a 49ers fan: "Excited for FA to start. Dreamt the Niners lost two potential HOFers while Seattle traded for Jimmy Graham. Whew."
Because really, that's what the start of free agency was yesterday. A dream.
Right after the big Jimmy Graham trade, I took a look at the real football impact the move made for Seattle. The conclusion, quite simply, was that it made sense -- the Seahawks are going to be better for it, and Graham fills a void that they've had for years.
But from a fantasy football perspective, Graham moving to Seattle is not good for the tight end's value.
No Longer in the Elite Group?
It's hard to be sold on the fact that Graham's fantasy football value remains the same, let alone improves, in Seattle. The Seahawks have been the most run-heavy team over the last three years -- the Russell Wilson era -- never throwing the ball more than they've run it in a single season during this span. Compare that to the Saints and, well, Graham clearly takes a hit in the opportunities column.
That's no typo -- the Saints have thrown 677 more passes (about 226 per season) than the Seahawks over the last three years. Considering fantasy football is an opportunity-driven game, that can't bode well for Jimmy Graham.
And it doesn't. Though Graham's been on the injury report a lot, he's only missed one game over this time. In sum, he's compiled 402 targets, which is roughly 19 percent of the Saints drop backs over this time frame. If he were to see similar usage in Seattle, Graham would have totaled 266 targets as a Seahawk over the last three years, or 136 fewer looks (45 per season) than he saw in New Orleans.
From 2012 through 2014, Graham scored 770.6 PPR fantasy points, which equates to 1.92 fantasy points per target. Keeping that same rate in Seattle, Graham would have scored a little less than 510 fantasy points, or 87 fewer PPR points per season.
Let's assume the Seahawks give him a higher percentage of targets, which could very well happen. Actually, let's make the assumption that Jimmy Graham sees 25 percent of Seattle's targets next season, which would easily be a five-year high in the NFL at the position.
As you can see in the table above, the Seahawks increased their drop back numbers by 26 from 2012 to 2013, and 32 from 2013 to 2014. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they're going to throw the ball 550 times next year. And Jimmy Graham will see 25 percent of that volume.
That would equate to about 138 targets for Graham, and at his three-year rate of adding 1.92 fantasy points per target, he would score 264 PPR fantasy points. That's about 35 more than what he saw in 2014.
So in the most unlikely of scenarios -- Graham seeing a higher target share than we've seen from a tight end over the last five years, the Seahawks increasing their volume at a higher rate than they have over the last three years, and Graham continuing at the same rate of adding fantasy points -- you have a player whose absolute ceiling would be right where his relatively normal season used to be.
But there are other things that ding the tight end in Seattle as well. Over the last three seasons, Drew Brees, according to our Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, has been far more efficient than Russell Wilson through the air with each drop back. In fact, Wilson has never topped Brees in a single season. Less efficiency means Graham's 1.92 PPR points per target could actually decrease.
This is especially true when you factor in a key element to Graham's game: scoring touchdowns. During his career, 10 of Graham's 51 touchdowns have come outside the red zone -- he makes a living close to the end zone. Over the last three seasons alone, Graham has 64 red zone targets, good for the fourth highest total in the NFL. Drew Brees has attempted 277 passes within his opponent's 20-yard line during this time, which is second only to Peyton Manning.
Russell Wilson has attempted 172 red zone passes since entering the NFL, 105 fewer than Brees, or 2.2 fewer per game. That may not sound like a lot, but Russell Wilson is only attempting 3.58 red zone passes per contest.
It's a lot.
We can say the Seahawks will be more pass-happy in the red zone with Graham, and I don't doubt that to be true. But to what degree? They have one of the best running backs in the NFL in Marshawn Lynch, and a dual-threat quarterback in Wilson. There's a reason the Seahawks have been the second run-heaviest team in the red zone over the last three years: their personnel has dictated it.
Now, with Jimmy Graham, all of a sudden they're going to simply feed the monster? No, of course not. Graham adds an obvious dimension in the red zone for Seattle that they've been lacking, and as I said in yesterday's column, that dimension was much needed. But an added piece doesn't force the other assets to go away. Jimmy Graham in Seattle doesn't mean the Seahawks are going to completely forget about running the football in the red zone. This isn't New Orleans.
New Orleans never had Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson.
I can't stress enough that this doesn't mean the move was a bad one by Seattle. All it means is that Jimmy Graham is more than likely not going to be the elite tight end we've all come to love.
In fantasy football today, it's Rob Gronkowski, a massive gap, and then a a group of a few tight ends that probably includes Jimmy Graham.